Analysis of Lakeland Electric’s (LE) workforce demographics in 2006 revealed that 40% of its 600 employees would be eligible to retire within five years. Fifty percent of Power Production employees were in that category. All utilities, as well as other industries, were in the same boat. We needed a strategy to lessen the effects of the impending “silver tsunami.” We knew a skilled workforce was critical to sustaining the utility’s high-tech operations to meet the increasing energy needs of our 120,000 customers. “Grow our Own” is one of the strategies embraced by the City of Lakeland’s Electric Department to address its aging workforce and projected retirements.
The majority of utility executives agree the aging workforce and looming retirement of baby boomers is a serious challenge facing the industry. The Florida Energy Workforce Consortium (FEWC) identified the following realities influencing these concerns and the industry’s specific needs:
- Utility workforce is four years older than national average – US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Demand for technical and craft workers is increasing
- Failure rates on pre-employment tests are increasing
- Potential threat to both productivity and reliability
- A qualified, diverse workforce – for us and our contractors
- Various career entry points with various educational attainments – technician-level and degreed engineers, accountants, etc.
- Pipeline of students
- Core values
Lakeland Electric’s journey to develop a pipeline of future workers created an industry/education partnership that has become an award-winning national model.
The discussion of an energy-themed career academy to prepare future utility workers for LE began in the lunch line at a conference in Fort Pierce, Florida. Coincidentally, John Small, Director of Polk County School Board’s Workforce Development Division and Betsy Levingston, LE’s Director of Training and Workforce Development, had each been looking for the other to discuss the possibilities. Career academies are industry-sponsored small learning communities offered within the structure of a traditional four-year high school. They have demonstrated success in reduced absenteeism, increased graduation rates and higher GPA’s compared to students in traditional high school programs.
Mr. Small and Ms. Levingston collectively selected the academy instructor, Mr. Gary Kiger, who had an extensive background in industrial construction and education. Mr. Kiger had not worked in the utility industry, so Lakeland Electric invited him to spend five months prior to school at the utility. He toured facilities and shadowed/interviewed subject matter experts in power generation, transmission, distribution, customer service, and support functions.
The LE Power Academy was to be located at Tenoroc High School, under construction to open in August, 2008. The School Board approved the facility and program design began.
Lakeland Electric and Polk County School Board dignitaries gathered at Tenoroc for the Power Academy groundbreaking ceremony on February 14, 2007.
Brochures, mall kiosks, bill stuffers, theater ads and parent/student orientations were used to promote the Power Academy. Ninety-three students attended the academy its inaugural year and enrollment has remained between 90-100 students.
Educators attended utility conferences to understand the industry, and likewise, LE’s representative attended education events to become familiar with state curriculum requirements, funding resources, and career and technical education guidelines. With every tour, meeting and workshop, the two partners grew more passionate about the endeavor and mutually eager to learn each others’ systems, requirements, policies and operations.
It soon became apparent that curriculum specific to the energy industry did not exist. The Florida Department of Education identified 16 industry career clusters—Energy was not one of them. Levingston pieced together a program of study for Lakeland Electric’s academy using materials from Construction, Architecture, Manufacturing and other industry clusters where Energy jobs were forced to fit and incorporated NCCER certification curriculum.
As Chair of the Florida Energy Workforce Consortium’s (FEWC) policy and education committee, Levingston spearheaded the effort to gain Florida Department of Education approval to add Energy to the approved industry clusters--the first in the nation. FEWC and the Florida Department of Education worked together to develop Energy curriculum frameworks as well as the teacher and student teaching materials--developed by industry, for industry. The Florida Energy Teachers Network was established in 2011 to set up the structure for statewide industry/education collaboration.
Lakeland Electric hosts an annual Open House at the academy for students, parents, guests and school personnel. Lakeland’s Mayor, City commissioners, City Manager, LE’s General Manager, Deputy General Manager and members of the executive team take this opportunity to meet and welcome returning and new students and their families.
Lakeland Electric employees are critical to the academy’s success. They conduct tours, make presentations, share LE’s values and expectations and help students prepare for various competitions. Energy Analysts explain energy efficiency and conservation—challenging students to take actions at home to reduce their energy consumption and lower their family’s electric bills. Lineman Trainers teach safety, provide pole-climbing demonstrations and give bucket truck rides. Other employees teach employability skills and annually conduct mock job interviews with each student—providing feedback and coaching.
Two activities highlight seniors’ final semester—job shadowing and public recognition
- Students spend 90 hours their last semester job shadowing LE employees/work groups. (Three 6-hours/week, 5-week rotations) Approximately forty employees participate in the shadowing program. These employees will, most likely, never truly comprehend the full impact they have on these students’ lives.
- Graduates are recognized at a televised City Commission/Utility Committee meeting. Each graduate receives a green and blue Power Academy graduation cord and a framed, signed certificate from the Mayor, the City Manager, and LE’s General Manager. The audience enjoys hearing from students about their academy experience and future goals.
The expectation is not that every Power Academy graduate will work at Lakeland Electric but that every graduate will know what it takes to succeed in his/her chosen path. Our goal is to prepare students with both technical skills and “life” skills—dependability, integrity, teamwork, hard work, manners, the desire to learn and other core values.
This industry/education partnership succeeds due to common goals, reciprocal efforts of inclusion, open communication, shared resources and mutual concern for our local economy and a skilled labor force. Polk County career academy students’ average GPA is 3.255 compared to 2.939 GPA of students in traditional high school programs. Lakeland Electric received the Polk County School Superintendent’s Partnership Award and the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Partnership Award in 2009. The academy regularly hosts educators and utility professionals who want to replicate this partnership and program in their communities.
Seventy-two students have graduated from the Lakeland Electric Power Academy. The majority are employed or attending college. Lakeland Electric has hired four graduates into full-time positions and seven are Power Academy Interns.
Learn more at http://www.lakelandelectric.com.